A recent study conducted in Italy supports the premise that canine behavior patterns are formed within the first 2 months of life. It concludes that there is a higher incidence of behavioral problems among puppies who are removed from their litter at two months or less, than others who remain longer.
The study was conducted by interviewing clients in several clinics located in Naples, Italy. 140 dogs were involved in the study, with half separated from their litter between 30-40 days. The other half remained with their litter for 60 days. The interviews were conducted when the dogs ranged in age from 18 months to 7 years.
Half of the dogs came from pet shops, one in three came from another household, and the remaining came from breeders. There were no rescue puppies included in the study.
A pattern of potentially problematic behavior was documented in the dogs who had been removed early from their litters. These behaviors included attention seeking, reactivity to noises, destructiveness, excessive barking, possessiveness around food or toys, and tail chasing.
Within the groups, it was noted that a greater percentage of pet shop dogs removed from their litters early exhibited these traits.
The approach and results of this study are interesting. While the information above is based on articles summarizing the study, we’re still trying to track down the original documentation. From the limited information available, it appears that environment and training could have a moderating effect on these issues.
It is not clear from the summaries whether there was any type of a “control” group. Each household appears to have raised their puppies according to their own methods. Each early litter environment- pet shop, breeder, household- was different, as was the growth and training environment.
A group of puppies from controlled environments in each of these litters would provide a consistent baseline of comparative behavior. It certainly makes sense that it could be disruptive to prematurely remove a puppy from its litter while behavior patterns are forming. A comparison to a control group which provided human consistent attention, and a reassuring environment, might add a fascinating insight to the result.